Gonzaga-Tarleton State takeaways: Close calls, and how Zags responded after fending off upset bids

<p><p>Time after time, Gonzaga has thumped seemingly overmatched nonconference opponents through the years at the McCarthey Athletic Center.</p></p><p><p>But not every time. There are several examples of an upstart underdog throwing a big scare at the Zags, even against some of the program’s best teams.</p></p><p><p>That was the case Monday when second-year Division I member Tarleton State, a 30-point underdog, made the home crowd squirm until the buzzer sounded on No. 3 Gonzaga’s uncomfortable 64-55 win. The Texans moved up 15 spots to No. 182 in KenPom’s ratings.</p></p><p><p>Tarleton State essentially repeated its performance from last Wednesday when it trailed by three points with 4 minutes left before losing at No. 20 Michigan 65-54.</p></p><p><p>Powerhouse programs aren’t immune to unexpected challenges on their home floor. No. 9 Kentucky trailed Division II Miles College by seven at half before rallying for a nine-point win in an exhibition game. Mercer, No. 206 in KenPom, led No. 10 Arkansas midway through the second half before falling 74-61.</p></p><p><p>Here’s a look at some of GU’s closest nonconference calls in the Kennel over the past six seasons and a couple of takeaways from the Tarleton State win.</p></p><p><h3>Close calls</h3></p><p><p>The 2017 Zags engaged in a bruise-fest, leading by three with 8 minutes remaining before closing on a 16-1 run to defeat Akron 61-43. In fairness, the Zips were preseason Mid-American Conference favorites, so they weren’t to be confused with an opponent with a KenPom 300-plus ranking.</p></p><p><p>No. 8 Gonzaga handled Tennessee 86-76 in Knoxville in its next game. The Zags finished 37-2 after losing to North Carolina in the national championship.</p></p><p><p>The following season, North Dakota, led by Geno Crandall, nearly pulled off a huge upset, but No. 12 Gonzaga escaped 89-83 in overtime. UND was defending Big Sky Conference champions, but its roster was weakened by graduation and transfers. The Fighting Hawks eventually finished 12-20.</p></p><p><p>Crandall, who joined GU as a grad transfer the next season, scored 28 points, including a 3-pointer to tie it in regulation. The Zags scored the first 11 points in the extra session.</p></p><p><p>Gonzaga crushed IUPUI 101-71 in its next outing. The Zags lost to Florida State in the Sweet 16 and finished 32-5.</p></p><p><p>The 2020 Zags (31-2) were a lock for a No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They opened the season with four wins by at least 30 points but had their hands full against UT Arlington.</p></p><p><p>No. 8 GU led by one at half and clawed out a 72-66 win. The visitors, who were 22-point underdogs, hit a flurry of 3s late to make it interesting after trailing 65-53. The Zags pounded Cal State Bakersfield 77-49 in their next game.</p></p><p><p>Last season, Gonzaga had one of college basketball’s finest offenses in decades and scoring wasn’t a problem in back-to-back games against Northwestern State.</p></p><p><p>GU cruised 95-57 in the first meeting and was rolling 43-17 at halftime in the rematch one night later. The Demons made 10 3s in the second half and scored 61 points, cutting the deficit to 11 before losing 95-78.</p></p><p><p>The Zags clobbered No. 16 Virginia 98-75 in the next contest. GU finished 31-1, the lone defeat against Baylor in the national championship.</p></p><p><h3>Ball security</h3></p><p><p>Monday’s game certainly provided Gonzaga coach Mark Few with some talking points in practice leading up to Saturday’s game versus No. 16 Alabama at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle.</p></p><p><p>Topping the list is taking care of the ball.</p></p><p><p>The Zags (7-1) are averaging 13 turnovers per game after committing 17 versus Duke and 16 versus Tarleton State. The Blue Devils outscored GU 23-2 in points off turnovers and the Texans held a 19-11 edge.</p></p><p><p>It’s been a team-wide issue. Andrew Nemhbard and Chet Holmgren both have committed a team-high 21 turnovers, followed by Drew Timme’s 19 and Anton Watson’s 13.</p></p><p><p>“Just with ballhandling, guys getting open and making crisp passes, things like that,” guard Rasir Bolton said of reducing turnovers. “We’re working as a team to bring that down.”</p></p><p><h3>Finding the range</h3></p><p><p>Gonzaga is shooting 33.3% behind the 3-point arc after two consecutive sub-30% efforts. The Zags have made just 10 of 40 (25%) in their past two games. They remain strong inside the arc at 47 of 73 (64.4%).</p></p><p><p>There hasn’t been much middle ground from deep with four games with percentages in the 20s, three in the upper 30s and a season-high 48% against Bellarmine.</p></p><p><p>“We always think the next one’s going in, but on a tough night like (Monday) we’d probably like to go inside a little bit, feed the big dogs down there, let them get going,” Bolton said. “So it’s a balance.”</p></p>